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In Mayor Hancock's world-class city, everyone matters — except park lovers

In Mayor Hancock's world-class city, everyone matters — except park lovers

It could have been a simple matter, this business of replacing a popular but time-battered playground on the west side of Denver's City Park. But the itch to do more, to radically transform what a playground might be and what it could mean, seems to have been racing through the blood of Parks and Rec staffers even before the mayoral election of 2011. And once Michael B. Hancock took office, the idea took off, evolving into something grand and infuriating.

"Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) is challenging currently accepted definitions of play," declares a request for design proposals, "and is looking to rethink play as a unique, multifaceted experience in an urban, multi-generational space in Denver's historic City Park.... The new space will be unique and will include community context and advocacy."

See also: Video: City Loop project's loopiness according to opponents

An international design competition drew 26 entries, all of them laboring to redefine and reimagine play — a mysterious activity, apparently, that the city's Play Area Master Plan grimly describes as "child's work," an endeavor that "is flexible and changeable according to one's mood, the time of day or the season of the year." The children's work area that this bold new thing would replace, a modest clump of deteriorating wooden structures known as the Dustin Redd playground, occupies less than an acre of the park, but the designers were encouraged to think much, much bigger, as befits a regional attraction intended to draw up to a thousand visitors a day.

The winning design, submitted by Chicago-based PORT Architecture+Urbanism and Denver's Indie Architecture, is a $5 million reimagining called City Loop. It features a half-mile ring of brightly colored plastic tubing circumscribing thirteen acres of the park, flanked by a synthetic running/biking track and numerous spur trails; within the loop are clustered play areas offering the obligatory swings and slides, as well as talking tubes, climbing orbs and nets, a rain room, a manned activities kiosk, and a stage with terraced seating for concerts and special events.

A close examination of the garish illustrations accompanying the City Loop proposal suggests that this vibrant new "regional civic space" will offer something for just about everyone. Food trucks for families on the go. A soft track for jogging geezers. Hammocks for summer slackers and an ice rink for Winter Olympics hopefuls. Comfort stations for the uncomfortable. All it lacks is what the initial project description insisted it would have: community context and advocacy.

Although DPR staff have been making public presentations about City Loop since the spring of 2012, many residents who live close to the park have only learned of the project in the past few weeks. That has prompted heated neighborhood meetings, the creation of a website called Stop City Loop — and considerable backpedaling and re-reimagining on the part of park officials.

Two weeks ago, DPR manager Lauri Dannemiller and several staff members fielded questions about City Loop from nearly a hundred neighbors at a meeting at the Ford Warren Library — a much larger turnout than most previous public gatherings about the project. Many of the audience members were visibly agitated and upset; not one, it seems, had braved subzero temperatures in order to compliment Dannemiller and her team on their excellent work.

Dannemiller began by explaining that the project is "only at about 60 percent design phase" and still subject to revision. The city has raised a fifth of the funds needed and is talking to nonprofit foundations about contributions. No big corporate donors have been sought, and "we have not anticipated corporate advertising or naming on the site."

But the park's neighbors have a host of concerns about City Loop, starting with the traffic, noise and parking problems that might result. They're alarmed at the prospect of sacrificing such a huge chunk of green space in an overstressed park that's already lost open areas to the ever-expanding footprints of the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science; some, in fact, suspect that "reimagining play" is simply a pretext for adding yet another gimmick to boost visitor levels at both institutions. They wonder why the city isn't spending money on badly needed park maintenance projects instead of a new feature with yet more maintenance demands. And they don't see why the Dustin Redd playground — named for a five-year-old boy who drowned in the park's Ferril Lake in 1996, and built on a shoestring with the aid of neighborhood volunteers — couldn't be replaced for a hell of a lot less money.

"I worked five days to build Dustin Redd," Phil Hainline, one of the creators of the Stop City Loop website, told Dannemiller. By his estimate, a reputable contractor could repair the playground for around $50,000. "This is a huge facility, with no concept of the amount of money required to maintain it. It's closer to Water World than a kids' playground."

Dannemiller and her aides tried to address each barrage in turn. Yes, the loop would encircle a thirteen-acre area, including a large meadow, but the play structures and "built environment" occupy only three acres. Although City Loop documents flatly state that there's no need for additional parking, the city is now considering adding more along existing roadways. The concerts will be "community-scale gatherings," not huge, fee-based events. As for traffic, maintenance and security questions, one planner hedged that the project is probably closer to 40 percent design phase than 60 percent; a lot still has to be worked out.

One woman recited a litany of the park's neglected monuments and fountains. "Why are you looking at putting $5 million into this and not repairing what's there?" she asked.

"I think that's a legitimate concern," Dannemiller replied. "All I can say is we will pay attention to that and try to get on top of that."

Yet nothing Dannemiller said indicated that her agency was inclined to abandon or significantly scale back the project — even though several speakers complained that DPR's effort to involve the community in the planning process wasn't nearly as extensive as the city's list of outreach events and public "touches" suggests. A member of the City Park Alliance who'd attended some early public-comment sessions noted that the design "had morphed and gotten bigger" from what she'd been shown. Linda Dowlen, a former president of the Whittier Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood groups were only invited to join the process after City Loop had already been selected: "The rest of the meeting was basically selling us on City Loop." Maggie Price of Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, a coalition of the city's registered neighborhood organizations, agreed that the representation of such groups at the City Loop sessions had been "not nearly enough."

Dannemiller nodded. "If you haven't heard about the project, that's our fault," she said. "We didn't do our job."

That was just about the only point the park boss and the park neighbors could agree on. And it's a sentiment held by many park users and defenders across the metro area; in his first thirty months in office, nothing Mayor Hancock has done appears to have generated quite as much citizen distress, scorn and outrage as the job his administration is doing — or not doing — in managing Denver's celebrated park system.

City Loop is only the latest of several recent DPR initiatives to generate public backlash. The department has imposed hefty fee hikes on various park and rec-center users — including a stiff charge for private exercise groups, such as mothers jogging with strollers, that was dialed back this fall in the wake of embarrassing coverage of the policy in the New York Times. The city is also in a bitter, albeit less publicized, struggle with adult sports leagues that have been displaced from favorite ballfields, muscled out by DPR's own expanding CityWide Sports program. And the decision to swap nine acres of a formerly designated natural area in southeast Denver in exchange for an office building near downtown — a pet project of Hancock's, who wants to establish a one-stop services center for domestic-violence victims — has triggered a lawsuit by a grassroots group and cries of protest from park advocates.

Some of the mayor's harshest critics believe he's bent on a kind of Disneyfication of the parks, imposing top-down decisions that reflect little public engagement or consideration of neighborhood impact. "The parks are under siege," says longtime park activist Dave Felice. "We have an omnipotent mayor who thinks he can do whatever he wants with the parks. And he's getting strong support from some people on the city council. He may have the legal authority to do it, but he's violating the social contract."

Tom Morris, a retired architect who's tussled with several city administrations on behalf of the South City Park Neighborhood Association, describes Hancock as the least-park-friendly mayor since Bill McNichols. "It's the same attitude McNichols had, that parks are cheap development land," he says. "This administration doesn't talk to people. They give away park land, and then they say it's none of our business."

Hancock is keen on boosting park use, and some of the fee hikes have helped to develop a program that provides free access to rec centers for thousands of schoolchildren. The mayor has declared that he wants to "activate" the parks, in much the same way that he talks about activating neighborhoods, the downtown core and the South Platte; his tenure has been a daily scurry in search of buttons to push and levers to pull. The plan for City Loop didn't originate on his watch, but the notion of an outdoor extravaganza in Denver's busiest park, packed with features to lure young and old, fits neatly with his declared mission of creating — sorry, activating — a "world-class city."

But in the details, park lovers are finding more crass than class. "At some point, you need to let a park be a park," Felice says. "We don't need to have the city dictate what we should do in a park, what constitutes 'activation' and what we need to achieve it. Frankly, I think this mayor is intent on destroying the parks."

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Spanning dozens of urban parks and thousands of acres of trails and open space across the city, plus another 14,000 acres of mountain parks stretching to the peak of Mount Evans, Denver's park system is one of the oldest and most extensive in the intermountain West. What began in 1868 with a canny developer's donation of a single vacant block to the city — Curtis Park — soon grew to an impressive inventory of greenways and groomed parks, aided by the farsighted investments of the City Beautiful movement, which introduced many of the neoclassical monuments, pavilions and promenades to City Park, Cheesman and other mainstays.

In recent years, the park inventory has continued to grow, thanks largely to infill projects at Stapleton and Lowry. A 2010 study by the Trust for Public Land calculated that Denver's parks and recreation areas now generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in economic value, from tourism dollars and increased property values to health benefits and air pollution mitigation.

But city officials have rarely treated Denver's parks as such prime assets. In times of lean municipal budgets, park maintenance operations tend to be among the first on the chopping block. The manager of Denver Parks and Recreation is a political appointee — usually someone with no real background in parks, like Dannemiller and most of her predecessors over the past few decades. And DPR's ever-rising annual budget, now at $51 million, has prompted a succession of mayors to look for ways to use the parks to produce cold cash or political capital — and left neighborhood groups in the position of defending local parks against the schemes cooked up by their caretakers. It's a battle that activists say has become increasingly difficult since the 2010 zoning overhaul, which reduced the degree of involvement that Denver City Council has in park-planning processes.

Tom Morris has been involved in more than thirty years of skirmishes over City Park alone. Mayor McNichols wanted to wedge a fire station into the park — where the closest service area, Morris notes, would consist of grass and bushes, not houses. Federico Peña's great-city imaginers wanted to move DPR offices into the pavilion. Neighborhood groups fought hard to reclaim the park from such harebrained proposals; they helped launch the City Park Jazz concert series, took back the parking lots from gangbangers, fended off a proposed aquarium, dickered with zoo and museum officials about providing adequate parking so visitors didn't spill into surrounding neighborhoods. Their thanks for decades of vigilance was yet another attempted incursion by the Hickenlooper administration — a 2007 plan to fence off a huge section of the park for a music festival and other "admission-based events," quickly scrapped in the face of neighborhood wrath — and now City Loop.

City Park and Washington Park have also been key battlegrounds over field usage. DPR has always worked closely with Denver Public Schools and other entities to provide youth sports activities, but in recent years the department has substantially expanded its CityWide Sports outdoor program for adults, setting up its own softball, volleyball, ultimate Frisbee, flag football and kickball leagues. That's resulted in numerous conflicts with the organizers of privately run leagues, who have discovered — sometimes just days before their season starts — that they've been denied permits for times and fields that they've used for years.

According to spokesman Jeff Green, DPR is trying to meet the needs of residents who want the experience of a city-run sports program. "There's definitely a market that's been created by private businesses," he says. "But the way we run a league is different. Sometimes folks want to play kickball, but they don't want to be in a beer league."

Most of the metro area's suburban parks departments don't rent out fields at all. DPR officials say they're happy to accept permit revenue from private leagues when they have fields available but believe CityWide offers more of a "quality" experience. But the private-league organizers say that the Denver department is trying to duplicate something that's already being done more efficiently by the private sector — and losing permit revenue in the process.

"I've never come across a system like Denver's," says Bart Fitzpatrick, the "head monster" of Sports Monster, which operates adult recreation leagues in ten cities, including Denver and Boulder. "The city is artificially blocking use."

Some cities offer private leagues a grandfather claim on fields they've traditionally used if they prove to be good stewards; in Chicago, Sports Monster has contracts for specific fields stretching over five years, guaranteeing a steady flow of revenue to the city. But Fitzpatrick has seen his company's softball operations in Denver decimated by competition from CityWide, which he claims reserves far more fields than it uses.

"You can drive around and find empty field after empty field, but they say it's booked if you try to rent it," he says. "They're trying to block off all the fields so they can be a monopoly, but there are always people who are going to choose not to play with them. The city has lost out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, if not millions."

Tom Davenport, founder of Volleyball of the Rockies, says CityWide snapped up all of the volleyball zones at Washington Park — enough to accommodate hundreds of teams — when it launched its own adult volleyball league two years ago, and ended up using only a fraction of them. "They permitted everything and used less than 10 percent," he says.

Davenport's organization is one of the largest volleyball operations in the country, running 800 teams a week in facilities and parks across the Front Range. CityWide now has closer to fifty — not enough "critical mass," in Davenport's view, to routinely match up teams of comparable ability and provide quality competition as well as recreation.

"We feel we run a higher-quality program," he says. "But they control the real estate, and that gives them an unfair advantage. There's no way to make short- or long-term business decisions when there's a question of whether you're going to have a place to play."

Fred Weiss, DPR's director of finance and administration, denies that CityWide is trying to monopolize the business. "The assertion that we intentionally over-reserved fields to keep outside entities out is absolutely not true," he says. "We try to reserve the fields based on our best estimates of what registrations will be." In the case of the volleyball fields at Wash Park, he adds, "It was an educated guess on what the team registrations would be. They did overestimate, and we ended up releasing fields that Tom took."

But other league organizers also claim that CityWide policies have disrupted schedules and hurt their businesses. Kick In for a Cause, a kickball league that began with just six teams in 2002, now boasts more than 400 teams, thousands of players, two full-time staffers and several seasonal employees. Last year CityWide moved into kickball in a big way, displacing KIFAC on City Park fields for two out of five days of the week that the league had traditionally operated there.

"The city tried to come up with alternative fields, but the places they provided weren't as big and were more difficult to get to," says KIFAC founder Patrick Brown.

Brown has been frustrated in his attempts to clarify the city's policy for prioritizing the use of its park fields. City municipal code states that youth leagues get first crack at reserving or permitting Denver's athletic facilities, followed by "leagues or teams serving the larger percentage of Denver residents" — which would seem to allow an operation as large as KIFAC or Volleyball of the Rockies to take precedence over fledgling CityWide leagues.

But in an e-mail last May, DPR manager Dannemiller stated that her agency has "a long-standing policy (which was not changed recently) by which we prioritize the scheduling of our athletic fields. Denver youth sports leagues get first priority; non-profit youth leagues get second priority; Adult Denver CW [CityWide] Sports get third priority, and outside adult leagues get fourth priority."

Dannemiller has since said that she misstated the policy in that e-mail and corrected herself in a subsequent meeting with private-league organizers. A few days ago, in an interview with Westword, Weiss and Green outlined what they maintain is, in fact, the longstanding policy for ballfield allocation. According to them, city-sponsored activities, whether adult or youth, have first priority in all DPR facilities, followed by youth leagues affiliated with the Denver Public Schools — then "outside" youth leagues, and, finally, outside adult leagues. Weiss explained that the city works hard not to displace youth leagues with adult CityWide games "because we understand how important youth leagues are."

But scheduling spreadsheets from last year indicate that CityWide adult leagues bumped youth leagues from fields at two parks. "They've taken fields away from youth leagues to run adult sports, so they're not following their own program," Brown says.

CityWide Sports has almost quadrupled in size in the past decade; it now has close to 1,400 adult teams and more than 20,000 participants, primarily in softball. Weiss says he doesn't anticipate that the program will require more fields this year than it used last year — even though DPR's internal analysis indicates that the city can make more money from operating its own leagues than from renting out its fields.

Brown is skeptical of that claim. He contends that the program may be doing better in softball, where it now dominates the market, than in several other sports. He points out that CityWide doesn't generate any permit revenue for the city, pays the salary of three full-time employees, and has been heavily discounting memberships in order to beef up its leagues. Figures on CityWide revenues and expenditures supplied by DPR show that the program lost more than $300,000 in 2011, a deficit that Green says was covered by a surplus from the year before. In 2012, the program eked out a $16,000 profit on revenues of more than $750,000. Year-to-date numbers for 2013 show a healthy profit margin of $256,547, but Green cautions that the tally is preliminary.

"They look at these as their fields, not fields they're supposed to manage for the benefit of the most people," says Brown. "I've heard that multiple times, from Lauri Dannemiller on down. We were told at one meeting that we were lucky they let us use them at all. They think it's their divine right to run this program, even though it means fewer people participate in the parks and less money goes to the city.

"It's a circular argument. They say it's to generate money, and when you ask them to prove they're not losing money, they say they're doing it to increase park usage. There's no answer. It's as if no one is accountable."

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Scott Gilmore first heard about the plan to "reimagine play" in City Park when he was serving on the Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, a nineteen-member panel of citizens appointed by city council members and the mayor's office. Gilmore, a former Colorado Division of Wildlife employee, was the appointee of then-councilman Michael Hancock.

When Hancock ran for mayor, Gilmore walked the streets for him. After the election, Gilmore became deputy manager of the parks under Dannemiller and, since the departure of a planning director a few months ago, the point man for the City Loop project. It's a project he ardently defends, with an air of puzzlement that anyone could oppose such a worthwhile cause.

As Gilmore sees it, City Loop is about promoting healthy living, providing recreation not simply for children but entire families, and celebrating good, clean fun. "This is for families that are moving in around the city and don't have a lot of space," he says.

It's also about making a statement. Months before Hancock took office, DPR had already obtained a $75,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to help fund a design process for the new, expanded play area. Simply replacing the Dustin Redd playground was evidently never a serious consideration, and Gilmore seems offended at the suggestion that such funds might have been better spent on actual equipment.

"One of the mayor's main things is that we're going to be a world-class city where everyone matters," he says. "For me to say we're just going to plop down an out-of-the-box playground and put it in City Park, our treasured jewel — that just seems to be missing the target. We were looking to do something iconic."

Iconic, of course, doesn't come cheap. Denver International Airport officials were looking to do something iconic when they hired "signature architect" Santiago Calatrava to design a $500 million expansion project, a relationship that soured two years ago when financial constraints got in the way. But DPR's new play area was also supposed to feature a "community driven design process," and it's the claim that the public was shut out of the process that exasperates Gilmore.

"We sent out numerous press releases," he sighs. He acknowledges that "it was a struggle" to get neighborhood groups involved. (Other sources who attended at least some of the open houses and public presentations for the project say the number of city employees on hand sometimes exceeded the size of the audience.) But DPR persisted. Staff collected hundreds of online comments to help the steering committee winnow the proposals. They displayed the shortlisted designs at the zoo, the museum, the Webb building, a Park Hill bakery, and at the Dustin Redd playground itself.

Given the complaints about lack of meaningful community involvement, though, Gilmore says the process will continue. "Right now City Loop is a concept," he says. "We're not going to just start razing the park. This hasn't been done in a bubble. We're open to listen."

Gilmore is confident that many of the neighborhood concerns about the project can be addressed. Perhaps the original plan was overly optimistic in suggesting that a thousand extra visitors a day wouldn't add to the park's traffic and parking woes, but Gilmore insists that parking isn't really a problem except during special events and free days at the zoo and the museum. Although DPR had to lay off thirty of its 130 maintenance workers in recent years, the passage of a city "de-Brucing" amendment last year has produced sufficient funds to replace those lost positions over the next five years, and Gilmore expects that City Loop will have its own dedicated maintenance fund. Critics want to talk about the impact on green space, but Gilmore touts a "net tree gain" from the project as the city puts in new plantings to replace trees that will be removed by construction.

At the same time, Gilmore is now looking at several possible revisions to the original design to incorporate a wish list of items park users might find desirable: an urban garden, an ice rink, fitness zones, grills and picnic areas. City Loop has become a moving target, making it difficult to evaluate its true costs or impacts. "We're working to improve the design, to make it multi-generational, make it healthy living," Gilmore says.

But no matter how much the design gets tweaked, the project's opponents say it's fundamentally out of character with stately City Park. A 2001 DPR study of the park's legacy praises its "original bucolic intent" but notes that many of its gardens, pedestrian areas and structures are in desperate need of restoration and protection. A 2010 plan for improving park circulation describes how open space has given way to "more programmed active spaces" and how museum and zoo expansions have fundamentally altered the original flow of the park.

"Cycling and leisure walking is [sic] not well accommodated in the current park circulation system," the plan observes, "and the degradation of the sinuous pedestrian circulation network has contributed to under-utilized spaces and difficulty in navigating the park."

Gilmore concedes that aspects of the City Loop design are at odds with his own agency's plans for improving park circulation and honoring its pastoral character. But while certain features of the design might still be negotiable — and, depending on funding sources, the project might have to be built in phases stretching over a decade or more — City Loop isn't going away.

"It's our intent to build a version of this project," Green says. "It's not a bond project. It's what we've decided we want for City Park at this time."

Nancy Francis, one of the organizers of Stop City Loop, says that neighborhood opposition to the project isn't going away, either. "To Denver Parks and Rec, City Park is an abstraction," she says. "We're the ones who are there every day. To us, it's a park."

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When David Longbrake went house hunting in southeast Denver in 1976, he found a place in the Hampden Heights neighborhood that seemed ideal. Behind it was an unspoiled expanse of the Cherry Creek corridor, teeming with wildlife, trees and native plants.

Longbrake checked with the city planning office and confirmed that there was no chance that the parcel behind his house would ever be developed. It belonged to the city, it was in a floodplain, and it was listed on city maps and planning documents as park land. Longbrake bought the house, and for the next three decades, he and his wife, Eva, enjoyed exploring the nature refuge next door in all seasons. After Eva died of breast cancer, Longbrake donated a bench along the open space in her memory.

Longbrake offered to make additional donations to the area's facilities, but park officials told him that he couldn't. In 2007, DPR officially designated the land, adjacent to Paul A. Hentzell Park and containing one of the last vestiges of a prairie ecosystem to be found anywhere in the city, as a natural area. That meant there couldn't be any improvements there, Longbrake was told. Not ever.

Or not, at least, until the arrival of the Hancock administration. Last January, Dannemiller rescinded the "natural area" designation for nine acres of the parcel in order to clinch a land swap with Denver Public Schools: DPS wants to build an elementary school in southeast Denver, and Hancock wants to convert a DPS building on Fox Street to house services for domestic-violence victims. In April, Denver City Council approved the deal.

Longbrake's story is told in a just-released short video, "Hampden Heist: The Abduction of a Denver Park," part of a concerted effort by park advocates and neighbors to stop the swap. City Loop might be a slap in the face to those who want a park to be a park, but opponents of the Hampden Heist describe it as an outright betrayal, a dangerous precedent for giving away open space that belongs to the community. "This is a classic example of 'rip it out of the ground and sell it,'" says parks activist Felice.

Watch the "Hampden Heist" video here.

Dannemiller's own advisory board recommended against removing the natural-area designation, but DPR's neglect of the property — the agency never followed through on restoration efforts urged back in 2007 — appears to have strengthened the mayor's argument for getting rid of it. In his defense, Hancock has pointed out that two acres of the eleven-acre transaction consist of a parking lot, while contending that the rest are "blighted, overrun with weeds, and have lost any significant natural-area values." But neighbors and even DPR's former wildlife ecologist (whose job was eliminated in 2011) disagree, describing the area as a key corridor for raptors, coyotes and other wildlife.

The city's charter states that any transfer of park land requires a vote of the people. But the Hentzell Park Natural Area was never formally declared a park; land not designated before 1955 doesn't receive the legal protection of a park without an ordinance passed by city council. Ironically, the city has developed numerous parks over the years, from Ruby Hill to Central Park in Stapleton, that never received the ordinance treatment. The dispute has prompted DPR to submit numerous parks for designation in the past few months, as if to reassure citizens that city officials don't have plans for jettisoning other "blighted" and not yet officially recognized parks.

John Case, the attorney challenging the land swap on behalf of Friends of Denver Parks, says the mayor is trying to use a legal technicality to justify selling off a "common-law park." In court, he's introduced various city maps and signs, dating back decades, that refer to the area as a park. He's brought in testimony from historians and longtime residents who, like Longbrake, relied on representations by city officials (including one 1979 letter from Mayor McNichols) that the area would remain undeveloped.

Friends of Denver Parks also gathered more than 6,000 petition signatures in an effort to put the land swap on the ballot. But Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson rejected the petitions, maintaining that the group had no standing to challenge the transaction.

"There are two issues now," says Case, who is preparing for a trial on the legality of the land swap next spring. "One is the preservation of open space, and the other is the right of the people to vote. They've ignored both principles."

Despite the lawsuit, the city and DPS are already moving forward with development of the site; a colony of prairie dogs was live-trapped, then exterminated this fall, removing a principal food source for other wildlife. At the same time, the Hancock administration has sought to defuse the Hentzell controversy by stressing that the city continues to add open space and natural areas. In a clear appeasement move, the remaining sixteen acres of the Hentzell Park Natural Area have been added to the existing park. Other properties continue to expand, such as the Heron Pond Natural Area on the north side, a wildlife viewing area built around a stormwater-retention pond. But Felice isn't impressed.

"You can't trade twelve acres of Hentzell Park for Heron Pond, which is a Superfund cleanup site," he bristles. "Michael B. Hancock will be known as the mayor who took away parks to meet his selfish goals."

Hancock has a different legacy in mind. Last week Hizzoner announced that he and Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price had launched Mayors for Parks, a bipartisan coalition formed for the express purpose of goading the federal government into saving the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a major source of funding for local park projects that's scheduled to sunset next year.

"Parks are vital not only to the health and wellness of our residents but also to our city's economic vibrancy," Hancock wrote in a guest editorial published in the Denver Business Journal. "Preserving and expanding our green, open spaces is not only smart, it is critical to the future success of our city."

Offering water features, clustered play areas and diverse terrain, the City Loop concept would encircle thirteen acres on the west side of City Park.

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